News Archives

Combating Crimes Against Humanity

February 27, 2014

During assembly on Thursday, February 27, Leila Nadya Sadat, parent of Sam Wexler '13 and Kyra Ruben '19, spoke to students about combating crimes against humanity. Her presentation launched JBS's annual International Week which will culminate Friday, March 7 with the International Dinner.

Head of School Andy Abbott introduced Sadat. "Leila is an internationally recognized human rights expert specializing in international criminal law and justice. As The Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute since 2007, Leila is a dedicated teacher and prolific scholar, publishing more than 75 books and articles in leading journals and academic presses throughout the world. In December 2012, Leila was appointed Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity by International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and earlier that year was elected to membership in the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. ... In 2008, Leila launched the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, an international effort to study the problem of crimes against humanity and draft a global treaty addressing their punishment and prevention."


Sadat said, "We're here in this beautiful space... in this lovely city of St. Louis...in peace. [But there are many places where] life is nothing but an absolute torment."

One such place is Uganda, where she reported more than 30,000 children have been kidnapped. She shared two stories, both tragic but both with good endings:

  • Grace Akallo, from a small farming community in Uganda, was kidnapped at age 15 by the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA forced her to shoot other children, sold her to men, starved and beat her. Unlike many others, Grace escaped and attended college and graduate school in the U.S. She has shared her story (Girl Soldier) and founded the United Africans for Women’s and Children’s Rights.
  • Jacob Acaye, from another small town in Uganda, was also kidnapped by the LRA, along with 40 other children. Jacob escaped but his brother was slaughtered in front of him. Later, he was the subject of an online video campaign Kony 2012, produced by Invisible Children to stop Joseph Kony, commander-in-chief of the the LRA. Sadat showed an update video about Joseph, who is earning a law degree and continues to work for justice: "We are all equal. We need to be treated the same. Everyone deserves justice in the world .... But you start with your society. For me, I am no longer invisible, but there are still invisible children in Central African Republic, invisible children in Congo and South Sudan. ...Justice is near and one day we shall finally celebrate the end of this war."

Sadat said Grace's and Jacob's stories are not isolated, and most have not had happy endings. She reported that "between 1945 and 2008, there have been 313 armed conflicts" worldwide during which 90 to 100 thousand civilians were killed and countless others were subject to "atrocity crimes," including sexual violence, enforced disappearances (especially in Latin America) and forced displacement and deportation. "Of an estimated 1,000,000 perpetrators of atrocity crimes, fewer than one percent have been prosecuted and brought to justice."

The 1945 Nuremberg Charter addressed mass atrocities and established a set of rules to be enforced by the international community. But, Sadat said, "we needed a permanent court ... and in the 1980s and 1990s the ideal came back to life." International ad hoc criminal courts and tribunals were created to deal with Yugoslavia, Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Cambodia.

In 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was born in Rome — "a permanent Nuremberg." The ICC began operations in 2002 and has eight situations (21 cases) on its docket: Uganda, DRC, CAR, Darfur (Sudan), Kenya, Libya, Cote d'Ivoire and Mali. "But the court has no police force." It relies, instead, on state authorities, the occasional perpetrator who turns himself in, and a lot of patience "because there is no statute of limitations on these indictments."

Sadat said 122 states are members of the ICC. China and India have expressly not joined, and the U.S. and Russia are "thinking about it." She explained that the U.S. originally signed the Rome Statute and that the Obama administration is cooperative. "But the U.S. has a history of taking a long time to ratify treaties — it's a matter of sovereignty."  Europeans and others, who have had wars fought within their borders, "value justice and human rights above sovereignty."